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Did you know that links have been made between Black hair care and illness? For a while, we didn’t either. Unfortunately, new studies have shown that certain hair care products–particularly those targeted towards Back consumers–contain harmful chemicals that can be detrimental to health. Keep reading for more information on the topic.
What’s the link between the Black hair industry and illness?
Black women have had suspicions for years that maybe some of the health issues they faced might have had something to do with the harsh hair products they’ve used previously. Nicole Kind, owner of Tre’ss Bien Salon in Alabama thought the same thing when doctors told her at 16 that she had started menopause. In an article by the Montgomery Advertiser, King says that “Knowing what I know now, how a lot of those chemicals can cause hormone disruption, you can't convince me that that isn’t what I've been dealing with for years”.
And she isn’t alone. While Black women may have only had suspicions about their haircare causing them health issues, a US study into the links between haircare used by Black women and their health has shed light on and affirmed these suspicions.
The 2018 study by scientists at Silent Spring Institute measured the effects hair products used by Black women had on their health. The study focused particularly on chemicals associated with asthma and those found to be damaging to the endocrine system–the collection of glands responsible for producing hormones that affect a range of bodily functions including development, reproduction and metabolism.
The study targeted 60 chemicals found in 18 commonly used hair products including a hot oil treatment, hair lotions, root stimulators and leave-in conditioners. Of these 18 products, Silent Spring found that 80% of them contained high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as parabens, cyclosiloxanes (a type of silicone), and diethyl phthalates (a plastic additive, also known as DEP).
While these ingredients can be considered relatively safe when used in small amounts, when used over long periods and in high concentration can have adverse results on health. DEP especially has been linked with damage to the lungs, liver and reproductive systems.
The products tested included classics known by Black communities around the world such as Luster’s Pink Classic Light Lotion, Soft & Beautiful Just for Me No-Lye Conditioning Relaxer and ORS Fertilizing Serum. A full list of products tested can be found here via Vibe.
Why Are Black Women So Disproportionately Affected?
While the harmful ingredients mentioned above can be found in hair care products targeted at women from other races and causing similar issues as those faced by Black women, Black women are more affected by this issue than women from other races. This lies largely in the fact that due to the nature of Black hair, it often requires more attention and care to combat common issues like dryness and breakage.
In an interview with the BBC, author, blogger and hair care coach Tola Okogwu says the problem stems from the fact that the products traditionally marketed towards Black women are often low quality and the way Black women use their products. By frequently using a lot of products, Black women are at a higher risk of exposure to the harmful chemicals within these products.
Video | BBC Interview with Silent Spring Institute and Tola Okogwu
What Products Can I Use Instead?
Tola has a great list of haircare brands in her blog on the subject of Black haircare. While we also encourage you to do your own research into the products to find out which would be most suitable and safe for you, we’ve listed some of our favourites which are also UK based and Black-owned below:
Quickly becoming a go-to brand for many people, Afrocenchix prides themselves on making haircare as simple as possible without compromising on quality and efficacy. Their sets make it easy for you to find the products that would work best for you and with travel sizes available, it’s a great way to test them out.
Equi products are all rooted in making the most out of your natural hair and helping all hair types thrive, shine and grow. If you want to reach your hair goals by promoting growth, thickness and retention, Equi Botanics is for you.
Dizziak originally launched with an incredible deep conditioner promising softer locks in just five minutes (and it delivers on that promise!) and have recently also added shampoo to their collection. Great products that also look great on your bathroom shelf. We love them.
How Can I Keep Myself Safe?
While the onus shouldn’t be just on consumers to protect themselves from potentially harmful products, legislation and testing don’t always keep up with new findings on the harmful effects of products on people’s health. So to keep yourself protected, it’s important to educate yourself on the subject so you know what to look out for.
Being aware of which ingredients to avoid is the first step to keeping yourself protected. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should look out for buzzwords like ‘paraben-free’ or ‘clean’ when shopping for products. Sometimes brands will use these phrases as a marketing ploy also known as ‘greenwashing’.
Make sure to also take note of their location within the ingredients list; the earlier on it comes, the higher the concentration.
Try to minimise your routine by cutting down on products and only using what you need. Using a lot of products isn’t always the best for your hair as it can be too much so focus on using a few products that work for you and leave your hair at its healthiest. As the saying goes: it’s quality, not quantity.
Follow organisations like Black Women For Wellness. They’re an organisation committed to educating, empowering and advocating for the wellbeing and health of Black women and girls. You can subscribe to their mailing list, follow them on social media or simply keep their website bookmarked for regular visits so you can stay informed on
If you live in the US, try out DetoxMe. DetoxMe is an app created by Silent Spring. The free app helps you clean up aspects of your everyday life by sharing tips to help you avoid potentially harmful ingredients in everyday products. It even includes a barcode scanner that brings up helpful product-related tips in seconds.
Think Dirty - Shop Clean is a similar app to DetoxMe which helps you learn about potentially toxic ingredients within your beauty products and it’s also available to download in the UK.
Apart from products like shampoo, lotions and creams, it's also worth taking a look at other products in your beauty routine and how you use them.
For wig wearers, for example, traditional attachment methods like glues and combs have been the standard. However, these attachment methods when used over prolonged periods can cause problems like traction alopecia. Switching those out with something like The Wig Fix, a silicone gripper that secures wigs while protecting hair–can greatly help in maintaining healthy hair and avoiding illnesses like traction alopecia.
Image | The Wig Fix by The Renatural
Did you know products for Black hair could cause illness? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and how you’re cleaning up your beauty routine so feel free to leave us comments or share your thoughts with us on social media.